Patrick Sweany – Rust Belt Roots & Homegrown Blues

Looking at Patrick Sweany and listening to his music, conjures up the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Yes, there’s the vintage guitars, amplifiers and Midwestern influenced wardrobe. But, underneath it all lays a well-rounded, well-versed and articulate musician who has a style all his own. Patrick Sweany, originally from Massillon, Ohio, has recently moved to the ever-growing music mecca that is Nashville, Tennessee. He loves it and he feels that it is the best music scene in the world right now. His music is genre defying and his new album Close to the Floor is a potpourri of rock, blues, soul and more. Glide was able to track down Mr. Sweany inside a beautiful and intimate theater just outside of Boston, Massachusetts during his solo-acoustic tour opening up for Vanessa Carlton. Patrick was not hesitant to discuss his musical career, musical influences and unique relationship with his father. Ladies and gentlemen, Patrick Sweany is musically wise beyond his years and is the real deal.

It’s hard to classify your music. Upon first listen, one might classify your music as Blues. But upon a deeper listen, there’s more to it, it’s more complex. Is that correct?

I do think that is correct. I have a short attention span. I just think there is a bunch of cool, unifying traits about the stuff that I steal from – which is all basically from the beginning of the American recording industry as far as Blues and Soul. That’s obviously my primary thing. It’s pretty incestuous. There’s a lot of crossover between different types of music of that era and those feels. Like the dawn of electric guitars, they figured out to turn them up and how guitar distortion and things like that are pleasing things – along with adding an accent on rhythm. Those are both in a lot of what is in country music and soul music coming out of gospel and blues. And I liked a lot of different eras of blues music. That’s what I wanted to do most. I was really into finger-style guitar players like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake and Mississippi John Hurt. So that’s all where all my writing and technique come from. I also like Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker – the first electric guys. I think they had the coolest tones. But, I also like Iggy and the Stooges, and Bob Wills of the Texas Playboys. I like the energy of what Rock became in the modern era with Led Zeppelin through punk rock stuff and even Slayer. I listened to Slayer all day today. It’s great music to listen to when you’re driving by yourself. That sort of energy is what I’ve always been attracted to. I just stuck with what I knew and what I felt I was good at.

Patrick-Sweany-4-glide3

You’re really open to all styles of music then?

Yeah, but everyone is close-minded though. I’m fairly resistant to a lot of electronic music. It seems too easy. And I’d like for someone to prove me wrong. Not to sound dated, but I much more enjoyed the way the Beastie Boys would do things and sample themselves and they so very creative. I like things that are organic. I like musicians who are playing real instruments. Maybe that’s just me being a geezer, doing what I’m used to.

Your father was an influence with his impressive record collection.

Oh yeah. Dad was really into folk music and was an acoustic player. He wasn’t influenced by electric guitar at all. I was about 14 or 15 when I got one. He had really great roots stuff. He basically stopped buying records when Dylan went electric and that’s what was around for me to listen to and I could bond with dad by listening to the music with him. That’s what meant something to me. That stack of folk stuff, like Tom Paxton and the first few Dylan records and in that there was Lightnin’ Hopkins and Lead Belly records and stuff. And I was just like, whoa – who are these dudes?

So your dad was definitely a big influence?

Absolutely. There was also the social thing between dad and I. We could play music together, hang out and bond that way. It was a very social thing. He played in a folk group in church. He would hang out after rehearsal and he and his friend – who was in the band, would play other songs and I would just hang out. I’d sit there and wonder if I could do that. He agreed and it was all down hill from there.

You have a rich history with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. How did that all come about?

I started hearing about Dan around town while in Ohio. I went to school in Kent State, played clubs around there all of the time, had a residency and always have since the time that I was in school there – throughout over the past sixteen or seventeen years. At the time, I was at a two-year residency at this club on Franklin Street at Kent, right downtown. And a guitar player-friend, who had given Dan some lessons and who was coming and sitting in at some of his gigs in Akron, said you gotta meet this guy. He’s into some really cool stuff like Hound Dog Taylor, which was really cool because I was really into Hound Dog Taylor and trying to get my band to sound like that. I’m a huge Elmore James fan, and he’s sort of an extension of that – keeping it really pure and raw. Hound Dog could really move a crowd around at the bar. There’s nothing to argue about with a Hound Dog record. It’s all fun and great.

So, I don’t I don’t know if Dan was even 21 yet. But he and his dad came to one of my gigs. Dan brought a guitar and I asked him to sit in. He did and we played Hound Dog Taylor songs. I was like, “Hell yeah!” and he kept coming out. Then I got rid of the bass player and Dan would play second guitar, playing the Brewer Phillips’ parts. Not to get nerdy, but everyone should go checkout Hound Dog Taylor’s records. Brewer Phillips would play lead on some things, but most of the time he would play rhythm guitar and act as the bass component in that band. There was no bass in Hound Dog Taylor and the House Rockers. Hound Dog played open-tuning and slide guitar. Brewer Phillips would play standard tuned guitar and they had the drummer, Ted Harvey. And it was just those three guys. They would turn their amps up all the way and just distort it with blown-out sounds and they would play unbelievably fast stuff and some cool slow ballads. They were an amazing band, just super raw. So Dan was really in to that raw Mississippi stuff too. We’d trade some tapes and got to playing together. He played in the band for about a year or two. Then, while we were at a bar gig, playing like ten ‘til two in Southern Ohio and he played me a disc of the mixes of (the Black Keys’) The Big Come Up. And I was like, “That shit’s great. Time to find and train your replacement!”

Living in Akron is a really small town. So it was easy to run into each other a lot. And as he started to have success, we still remained friends and he offered to record a record of mine (Every Hour Is A Dollar Gone) because he built a studio in his house – which was great. That record has recently really taken on a second life because of his involvement in it and because the Black Keys become such a huge phenomenon. I’ve always been proud of him and always known that he’s gonna do good things. That was really something. I don’t see Dan very often, but he’s never been the guy you’d see hanging out in the club or anything like that. He’d go to a gig or a show, where I tend to be a bit more gregarious. I’ll go out to get a beer and watch a band that I don’t even know or like because I like the social nature of it – that is, when I’m home. And there’s a lot to do where I live so it’s really easy. When I do see Dan, we talk a lot, but he’s a studio rat. So I don’t see him that much, maybe every couple of months. We’ll shoot a text back a forth. But when your friends get really good jobs, they tend to hang out less!

Do you think that your move from Ohio to Nashville has affected your craft at this point?

Yeah, I do. I think it’s helped me refine what I do. As a performer, it’s definitely made me focus on live performance. And in turn, working with guys like Joe McMahan – producing the records and getting songs the way that they should be framed. He sees a bigger picture than I normally see – a couple of dudes with some guitars, bass and drums, banging it out. Which is good, a really healthy thing. It’s made me realize that the recording is an art form, just like anything else. It’s all about capturing that performance. We cut to tape and that’s it. All the rhythm tracks were done at once, so there’s that vibe – a lot of bleed. I’m not saying that doing it another way is better or worse, digital versus analog – there are some amazing digital records that have never touch tape. But, for me, the era of records that I like the best and that listen to the most are cut to tape and have that sound, the sound that I want to paint the picture with.

What has inspired you to write?

I got to meet and hang out a little bit with a guy named Robert Lockwood Jr., who was a session player on Chess records for years. He’s on all the Sonny Boy Williamson stuff and a bunch of Little Walter. He’s an amazing guitar player. He’s the only one that Robert Johnson ever taught, because Johnson dated Lockwood Jr.’s mom. He was living in Cleveland, doing his Wednesday night gig and I got to play a Robert Johnson song for him. He said, “Okay. Now we’ve already had one Robert Johnson. You gotta tell your own story.” and that just slayed me. He was right. All the guys that I liked so much, that were so deep and moving – talk about their lives. I realized I had to figure out what was going on in mine. I need to figure out my point of view and funnel that in a positive way. That’s why I write songs. I just know that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

close to the floor album cover

Your new album, Close To The Floor, is very eclectic. Was it your intent to have it be that way?

It comes very naturally. Everything for me, right now, is moving into a Soul and R & B direction. Now mind you, we’re using that as sort of a jumping off point for songs like “The Island”, in the way that its structured – using Soul music styled chords. But the feel has something more to do with like a Tony Joe White or a Brook Benton. A song like “Slippin’”, is more like my tribute to Bobby Bland – with a more Soul/Blues ballad. That form and the way that you’re able to express over that, those forms are brilliant platforms to build upon. A song like “Every Night Every Day” is just straight, hard Blues. That’s me really trying to do a half-assed Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Watson or even Guitar Slim. The music is in an E position with a lot of unison notes and really loud, bright tones.

I always try to think of it as if you’re playing your album just like a set, like you don’t want too many slow songs – even though there are a lot of slow songs on this album. You want some rockers and some songs that move the dance floor around. We are in the entertainment business and I want my music to be entertaining. My heroes were guys who were great entertainers. Guys like Bobby Bland, James Brown or Joe Tex. That’s my model. You want everyone there to feel like they want to be there. Don’t give them anything to argue with. So you have this familiar structure that you’re building on, but you’re able to do all of these massively expressive things, which is essentially what the Blues form means to me. Obviously, it can be taken and just used as a crutch or used irresponsibly. But, there are some brilliant things that you can do if you simplify the form.

Two tracks on Close To The Floor, “Deep Water” and “Every Day Every Night” certainly give a nod to your influences.

Oh, definitely. The first lick in “Deep Water”. That’s a Lightnin’ Hopkins lick. I learned that directly from listening to him. Maybe I’m borrowing too much, but it’s such a cool lick and no one is using it. Shit, everyone uses the Albert King licks – you know? People have been rippin’ off Steve Cropper for years. I need to get more people to rip off other musicians!

What’s one of your fondest musical memories?

There’s been some real great ones. Getting to hang out with Robert Lockwood Jr. is really special. Seeing and getting to meet people like Gatemouth Brown. I got to hang out with him in a hotel. I liked seeing Ray Charles live. I saw him three, maybe four times before he passed. That was mind-blowing. Even playing with friends of mine. I can’t narrow it down to a pivotal moment.

For a first-time listener, how would you describe yourself?

It’s rock and roll. I’m a white person, who grew up in the Midwest – that’s our cultural music. It’s rock and roll. Now it’s very influenced by a lot of different things. What it’s mostly influenced by is blues music, but I’m not a blues man in any sort of sense. I’m just a rock and roll guy. Even if it’s just me, guitar and a stomp box. If you come see the band, we’re definitely a rock and roll band, but it’s really soul and R & B influenced.

photos by Marc Lacatell

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